By Heath McCoy
Jean Grondin is only half joking when he says he was “the black sheep” of his family for pursuing a career in philosophy.
The Université de Montréal professor comes from a long line of medical practitioners, including his surgeon father, the late Pierre Grondin, famous for performing the first heart transplant in Canada in 1968. Grondin’s grandfather and great grandfather had also been medical doctors as is his brother. His mother was a nurse.
“My father expected me to do something serious,” says the celebrated professor and author of 20 books including an acclaimed biography of Gadamer, and the landmark Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. “I don’t believe he thought philosophy was a serious endeavour.”
Surely Grondin’s achievements have proved otherwise. One of the world’s leading academics in the areas of hermeneutics, metaphysics and German philosophy, Grondin will be delivering a lecture at the University of Calgary on Feb. 8, as one of the winners of the 2012 Canada Council for the Arts Killam prizes.
Among Canada’s most distinguished research awards, every year the Killam program offers five prizes of $100,000 to outstanding scholars in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering. Established in 1965, with funding from Izaak Walton Killam and his wife Dorothy J. Killam, the Killam Trusts comprise about $425 million — which is largely devoted to scholarships at the graduate and post-graduate levels.
Grondin’s lecture will be the first in a series of visits to the University of Calgary by Killam Prize Winners over the next five years.
Given his father’s stance on philosophy, the lecture Grondin will be giving in Hotel Alma’s Senate Room — entitled The Purpose of the Humanities — seems particularly poignant.
“I would like to help people appreciate the uniqueness and the importance of the humanities in today’s culture,” Grondin says. “If you suffer from cancer, of course it’s best to see a doctor. If you want to build a bridge, trust an engineer. But to address the basic questions about our society, our culture, our history and the purpose of human life, the humanities and philosophy make an indispensable contribution.”
However, this is not to say that the humanities have no crossover with other academic disciplines. As the preeminent researcher in the field of hermeneutics, Grondin’s work has crossed over into areas as diverse as education, psychology, social work and nursing, with these disciplines embracing hermeneutics as a research method.
“Hermeneutics is a theory of understanding,” Grondin explains. “It’s any sort of interpretation. You can interpret Shakespeare or Milton, or what’s happening in politics. A doctor has to interpret the symptoms of a patient to gain understanding of their sickness.”
“Interpretation is involved with everything we do, which is perhaps why hermeneutics has become a discipline of such wide-ranging interest.”
Please visit the Killam website for more information, and to RSVP.